So it’s nearly Christmas now and I won’t sleep, I’ll think of my mother eating pistachios and drinking beer, for so many years, leaving the shells on the counter – thought maybe that’s what Santa ate and the year when I begged and she made popcorn balls in a big pot on the stove in our apartment that had no walls – a studio, but I didn’t know that word then. That year she hung a string of light-up chili peppers and we had an endless supply of Ferrara Pan. One of the good days. Tonight, on my way to the first family Christmas I’ll have attended in thirteen years, I make tiger butter in the hotel microwave. This thing that sounds like a movie phrase – “in laws.” On my way to see the in laws. For so many years spent Christmas eve in the strip club/morning alone walking up Mission Street at seven a.m., wandering into churches to see the poinsettias and feel difficult things looking at families, hear the music. This year we have gasoline and hotel cable television, we’re so wealthy. This year, don’t tell, I send money to children in other countries for water filters and deworming medicines, wrap the receipts in red and green construction paper and give these as gifts. It isn’t altruism – not nearly enough. Ask Peter Singer. There are so many things I regret/yearn for. I’ve forgotten half of what my grandmother told me, feel it slipping through the open space between my knuckles. On the hotel TV there is Danny Kaye, she loved the actors who could dance. This is the first Christmas with her gone, and I feel depleted by her absence. Want her back, I missed so much, spent so many years feeling alone, and took home her notebook after the funeral and there was what she’d written about her own loneliness. That was the saddest moment, the most monumental regret. This morning in southern Oregon, the sunrise turned the sky electric neon pink and the clouds gold and striated over it like spread butter. The dog making sharp turns on the beach and flinging up wet sand with his tongue out and milky quartz – one million years of trapped water turned to milk/ice/glass and worried smooth, palm-sized, magic, redwood. Won’t sleep because I don’t want to miss the sound of traffic on the highway, thick red glass and Washington wine, Danny Kaye singing the songs my grandmother knew and sang any time the words struck her. Just before she died, her teeth out, gasping, she said “you’re a remarkable woman,” and I want, want, want to believe it.
Last Tuesday, my grandmother passed away. There are so many ways to say that someone has died, but no good ones. It wasn’t like that – passing. She said, “I’m sorry this is taking so long,” even though it wasn’t. She said, “okay, I’m not going anywhere,” and sat up sweating and lived another day to eat cheetos and tell me about prohibition. She’d been having seizures that made her arms flail and made her drop things and exhausted her. We rented a commode. We held her up to bathe her. “Put your arms around me,” I said. And she did, leaning her weight into mine and resting her soft cheek on my shoulder.
“I can do it myself,” she kept saying to all of us. “Bring me my cane, I’ll walk.” And some days, she did do it herself, surprising us all. On Thursday night, she was tired, but singing. On Friday morning, she couldn’t get out of bed even to pee. We bought “Silhouettes” in pink and blue. On Saturday she walked all the way to the porch and ate barbecued chicken and swore.
At the grocery store, I picked out a pink sippy cup with Disney princesses on it because she’d just told me about the time her older brother took her to see Snow White in the movie theater when she was ten, she’d been so frightened of the queen, she loved a Saturday matinee. When I showed her the cup and asked what she’d like in it, water, juice — “whiskey,” she said. And that’s what she had.
There is so much more and I can’t say it.